Two Orlando attorneys are suing the state’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles over violating the civil rights of DUI suspects. The suit is on behalf of a Winter Garden resident who was arrested for drunk driving, but the attorneys have asked for class-action status. It seeks $50 million for an estimated 240,000 people who were arrested since 2012 for drunk driving and had their licenses suspended.
The attorneys are challenging the department’s method for handling DUI cases, claiming that by immediately confiscating their drivers’ licenses, they are violating the right to due process granted by the 14th Amendment. They argue there is no other situation in which property can be confiscated without officers seeking a warrant. Before receiving authorization to take property, a judge must review an affidavit and determine probable cause.
License Suspension Following a Florida DUI
As soon as an officer makes a DUI arrest, he takes away the suspect’s license. The DHSMV automatically suspends driving privileges for a period of six months to one year. The suspect instantly loses all driving privileges for twelve months if he or she refused to submit to a BAC test at the time of the stop. At no point in this process does a judge intervene to determine whether the officer had probable cause to arrest the individual or stop him in the first place.
According to the lawsuit, the fact that there is no judicial involvement violates the suspect’s right to due process under the law. The lawsuit suggests that the state should have a judicially-appointed hearing officer conduct probable cause hearings before suspending licenses. Otherwise, the department violates property rights. Additionally, the suit claims the department violates the rights of those who are acquitted or otherwise found not guilty of their offenses.
In one case, an attorney based in Altamonte Springs represented a DUI suspect who refused to submit to a breath test when he was arrested. The Florida DHSMV followed the standard practice of suspending his license for twelve months. Later, the suspect was acquitted. After he was found not guilty, the suspect was shocked to discover that even though he was free of a DUI it had zero effect on the fact that he could no longer drive for a full year.
Florida DHSMV Hearings
The Florida DHSMV is not in sync with the courts and often acts on its own accord. Though the department grants DUI suspects permission to dispute their license suspension in front of a hearing officer, these officers work for the DHSMV. In 95% of cases, they side with the arresting officers. This goes against a United States Supreme Court decision in which citizens must receive due process, which requires a hearing before a “neutral and impartial arbiter” before they can be deprived of property (in this case, their driver’s license). The DHSMV employees who double as hearing officers do not show impartiality when reviewing these cases.
Finally, the suit alleges that the department collects upwards of $60 million a year from drivers who apply to receive restricted licenses for business and work purposes. The department collects hundreds of dollars in fees per person whose license is suspended, even those who are later acquitted of their charges. Through these methods, they violate the rights of DUI suspects in Florida.
What Should Change?
The lawsuit seeks an injunction to prohibit the state from suspending driver’s licenses until 90 days after the arrest takes place. Otherwise, drivers are not assumed “innocent until proven guilty.” In this period, a judge should review the facts of the case to justify license suspension. Additionally, those who are found not guilty of their offense should not be required to pay $240 license fees or attend administrative hearings.
Has your license been suspended in West Palm Beach following a DUI arrest? Attorney Brian Gabriel zealously defends the rights of DUI suspects throughout South Florida, and has built his criminal defense practice of over 30 years around alcohol cases. He is well-known in Palm Beach County for his determined approach to DUI defense. Call 561-622-5575 for a free consultation or contact us online.